An increasing body of evidence relates the wide range of benefits mineral surfaces offer for the development of early living systems, including adsorption of small molecules from the aqueous phase, formation of monomeric subunits and their subsequent polymerization, and supramolecular assembly of biopolymers and other biomolecules. Each of these processes was likely a necessary stage in the emergence of life on Earth. Here, we compile evidence that templating and enhancement of prebiotically-relevant self-assembling systems by mineral surfaces offers a route to increased structural, functional, and/or chemical complexity. This increase in complexity could have been achieved by early living systems before the advent of evolvable systems and would not have required the generally energetically unfavorable formation of covalent bonds such as phosphodiester or peptide bonds. In this review we will focus on various case studies of prebiotically-relevant mineral-templated self-assembling systems, including supramolecular assemblies of peptides and nucleic acids, from nanoscience and surface science. These fields contain valuable information that is not yet fully being utilized by the origins of life and astrobiology research communities. Some of the self-assemblies that we present can promote the formation of new mineral surfaces, similar to biomineralization, which can then catalyze more essential prebiotic reactions; this could have resulted in a symbiotic feedback loop by which geology and primitive pre-living systems were closely linked to one another even before life’s origin. We hope that the ideas presented herein will seed some interesting discussions and new collaborations between nanoscience/surface science researchers and origins of life/astrobiology researchers.
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